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Wyoming abortion ban blocked hours after suspect arrested in connection to clinic fire

Composite screenshot of Casper Star-Tribune video

A Wyoming judge blocked a statewide abortion ban several hours after a suspect was arrested in connection to a fire which likely prevented a second abortion clinic from opening in the state.

On Wednesday, Judge Melissa Owens of Teton County District Court blocked a statewide ban on abortion that had gone into effect only last week. Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, allowed the Life Is a Human Right Act to become law without his signature. The law would have banned almost all abortions in the state, though it permitted some exceptions, including ectopic pregnancies, fetal anomalies, and pregnancies conceived as a result of rape or incest.

Regardless of the details of the law, enforcement of it has been brought to a halt. Judge Owens determined that the ban violated the state constitution, which says that "[e]ach competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions." Owens stated that the state legislature has yet to determine whether abortion is a form of "health care," and until it does, abortion must remain legal.

"Wyomingites voted into law that they have a fundamental right to make their own health care decisions," Owens said at the hearing to announce her decision. "The Legislature cannot make an end run, essentially, around providing a Constitutional amendment."

Gov. Gordon made a similar assertion last week. "If the legislature wants to expressly address how the Wyoming Constitution treats abortion and defines healthcare, then those issues should be vetted through the amendment process laid out in Article 20 of the Wyoming Constitution and voted on directly by the people," he said in a statement.

Owens' ruling came shortly after a woman was arrested in connection to a fire set at a designated abortion facility in Casper, Wyoming, less than a year ago. In the early morning hours of May 25, 2022, Casper police officers noticed smoke billowing from the Wellspring Health Access Clinic, a facility which was still under construction but which was designed to offer abortion procedures and so-called gender affirming care among other services.

Surveillance video from the facility shows a woman wearing a hoodie sweatshirt and surgical mask enter through a broken window and pour gasoline. Police spotted the smoke coming from the building shortly thereafter.

The suspect had eluded capture until Tuesday when Lorna Roxanne Green, 22, was arrested by the FBI in connection to the crime. She has been charged with arson of a facility engaged in interstate commerce, a press release from the federal agency stated. If convicted, Green faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Though the Wellspring Health Access Clinic was scheduled to open last June, it still remains closed. Its website does not give a date or a timeframe for when it will open. For now, the state has only one abortion clinic.

Medication abortions are also set to become illegal on July 1 when another abortion-related law goes into effect. The same group which contested the Life Is a Human Right Act have filed a lawsuit to block the medication abortion law as well.

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